to;R kar aa))inah nah jaanaa yih
kih hame;N .suurat-aashnaa))ii hai

1) having broken the mirror, [you/she/he] didn't know this:
2) that we have {face/aspect/sign}-acquaintance



.suurat : 'Form, fashion, figure, shape, semblance, guise; appearance, aspect; face, countenance; prospect, probability; sign, indication; external state (of a thing); state, condition (of a thing), case, predicament, circumstance; effigy, image, statue, picture, portrait; plan, sketch; mental image, idea'. (Platts p.747)

S. R. Faruqi:

If it weren't for the fact that Mir's time was earlier than Momin's, I would have said that the construction of this verse was in Momin's style. Since Mir came before Momin in time, I say that it's possible that Momin might have learned one special style of his-- that is, to leave some important parts of the subject and verb merely implied-- from this verse of Mir's. In Momin's poetry the obscure/riddling 'mood' is in fact somewhat due to the way he says two things, but omits the steps of (poetic or intellectual) 'proof' that come between them, so that the verse begins to appear as a riddle.

Another reason for Momin's riddling quality is that he omits some important grammatical elements. Thus until the mind fills in those missing elements, the riddling quality in the verse remains. For example, look at this verse of Momin's:

da))v;aa-e ;husn-e jahaa;N-soz is qadar
phir kahoge tum mai;N har-jaa))ii nahii;N

[the claim of world-burning beauty, to such an extent--
then you will say, 'I am not a flirt/'go-arounder'!']

Here, in the first line, from both the subject and verb some important parts have been omitted. The prose of the verse will be like this: ( tum ) da((v;aa-e ;husn-e jahaa;N-soz is qadar ( karte ho , aur karne ke baavujuud ) tum phir ( yihii ) kahoge ( kih ) mai;N har-jaa))ii nahii;N . With regard to meaning the verse's 'proof' is incomplete, since it has not explained that (1) for the beloved, the taunt of being a har-jaa))ii [=a loose woman] is a bad thing; (2) the beloved whose beauty would light a fire in the whole world will necessarily be called a har-jaa))ii , because (3) when from her beauty fire is starting everywhere, then she is present everywhere. (4) Thus the beloved's claim that she is not a har-jaa))ii is wrong, especially (5) when the beloved herself is making the claim that her beauty is world-burning.

Mir's present verse too has this same style. The difference is that in Momin's verse the layers/depths have been lost, and even if we would supply the missing links of grammatical elements and 'proof', even then only a single theme has been achieved, without any abundance of meaning or rareness of the theme itself. Thus many of Momin's verses we are obliged to 'solve'; within them there is either nothing to be understood or construed, or very little.

This is the reason that most of Momin's verses don't seem to bear any special pleasure, even after they have been 'solved'; rather, a kind of despair is felt-- that the poet has deceived us. Whereas with Mir, his verses are usually brimful either with an abundance of meaning, or else with possibilities for meaning. Or else they have a rareness of theme. That is, even if Mir uses a Momin-like compression, he does not causes his reader/hearer to despair. Thus the prose of the present verse will be: ( tum ne ) aa))iinah ko to;R kar ( samjhaa kih ham be-mi;saal ho ga))e _ lekin tum ne ) yih nah jaanaa kih hame;N ( tum se ) .suurat-aashnaa))ii hai .

Now let's consider the meaning. The beloved is so arrogant that it doesn't suit her to see her likeness even in a mirror, because this will reduce her uniqueness. Ghalib:


Thus the beloved broke the mirror, and believed that now she had become peerless and unique. But she didn't know (that is, she forgot, or she couldn't understand the point) that the speaker was 'face-acquainted'. That is, sometime, somewhere, even if only once, he had seen her. Because of this sight, the beloved's uniqueness is still in danger. The reasons for this can be as follows:

(1) In the speaker's eyes her image has come to exist, as if the pupils of his eyes were mirrors in which the beloved's image was reflected. Whoever saw him, saw the beloved. Hubbi Naushahi [in Persian]:

'The one who has seen me has seen you, has seen the Lord,
I have seen your face, and you have seen the face of the Lord.'

(2) In the speaker's heart her image is present; thus to that extent she is not peerless and unique.

(3) If .suurat meaning 'existence' would take on an aspect invisible to the outward eyes (see Muhammad Hasan Askari's comment on {1421,2})-- that is, if we take it in the sense of 'mold'-- then the interpretation will be that the speaker is acquainted with the beloved's real existence (the mold in which she was created). Thus for the speaker the breaking of mirrors is meaningless. He neither needed a mirror before, nor needs one now.

(4) The speaker is acquainted with her face, and remembers her face so well (or is such a superb artist) that he will make a picture/image of her from memory alone. His hand and pen will spontaneously be drawn toward creating her. Anvar Shu'ur has well said,

.sirf us ke ho;N;T kaa;Ga;z par banaa detaa huu;N mai;N
;xvud banaa letii hai ho;N;To;N par ha;Nsii apnii jagah

[on the paper, I make only her lips
she herself makes laughter on her lips, in her turn]

The theme of an image coming to life is both an Eastern and a Western one. Anvar Shu'ur's first line is not very well-made, but the second line has rescued the verse.

(5) Then, hame;N .suurat-aashnaa))ii hai can also mean that 'you recognize our face'; that is, that you are 'face-acquainted' with us. Thus the speaker's face is the mirror in which she manifests herself. (It's possible that this might allude to the 'focused attention' in which a Shaikh, through his attention, makes his pupil resemble him in everything, even face and form.)

If we reflect, then on what level is Momin's 'mood'-free riddle-making, in which there's neither loftiness of theme, nor any subtlety or depth of meaning? (In it there's only 'cleverness'; the question of abundance of meaning doesn't even arise.) And on what level is Mir's ambiguity, which is full of meaningfulness, and in which every meaning takes some everyday direction, and in which the theme is apparently conventional but in fact ( .suurat-aashnaa))ii ) absolutely new?

A final point is that between aa))inah and .suurat there's of course a 'meaning-play', but between aa))inah and aashnaa))ii there's also the relationship of a zila: for aa))inah the similes of fountain, ocean, river, and so on are used, and one meaning of aashnaa is 'swimmer'. Ali Ausat Rashk has used both meanings very well:

gird-aab-e ;zaqan se dil nah niklaa
;Duubaa ((ajab aashnaa hamaaraa

[from the whirlpool of the dimple, the heart did not emerge
it drowned, our strange familiar/swimmer]



SRF's analysis of Momin's riddling style is, to my mind, exactly right. It's one of the great pleasures of SSA that it permits us to compare and contrast the verses of so many poets.

Somebody broke a mirror; probably it was the beloved, but since (as SRF notes) the subject is omitted, we can't be sure. More to the point, we can't say with any confidence why she, or he, or whoever it was, broke the mirror. Breaking the mirror was a non-verbal gesture, without any accompanying words, so its meaning to the gesturer must remain only a matter of speculation.

The speaker feels that he knows the meaning of the gesture, and thus its futility, since apparently in his view it is negated by his own possession of .suurat-aashnaa))ii . The obvious ('prima facie'?) reading for .suurat is of course 'face', but it has a remarkable variety of other meanings (see the definition above); in a verse this ambiguous and minimalist, quite a number could be brought in and used to create Sufistic or other open-ended possibilities. For the heart itself is well known in the ghazal world to be a mirror; the beloved might thus have broken the lover's heart/mirror-- only to discover that he still had unexpected resources.

Mirror imagery, which so clearly invites metaphysical abstraction and multivalence, is characteristically Ghalibian. Here's one case in which the beloved explicitly breaks what sounds like a strange kind of mirror, and here too it's not clear why; and the lover doesn't seem to have the inner resilience that the speaker does in the present verse:


But Ghalib has no monopoly. Here's a broken-mirror verse by Mir that registers right up there at the top of the ambiguity meter: